WASHINGTON, Aug 16 – U.S. home construction fell sharply in July, hit by rising mortgage rates and material prices, suggesting the housing market could contract further in the third quarter. .

Homebuilding plunged 9.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.446 million units last month, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

June data was revised slightly higher to a rate of 1.599 million units from 1.559 million.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a decline in housing starts at a rate of 1.54 billion units.

Permits for home construction fell 1.3% to 1.674 million units.

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